RAIN and cold failed to dampen spirits as Santa and Olympic torchbearer Jessica Gripton teamed up with Sandwell’s deputy mayor for the switch on of Cradley Heath’s Christmas lights on Saturday.

Several hundred people braved the bleak weather as organisers and entertainers soldiered on to bring some festive cheer.

Councillor Ann Shackleton said: “Despite the really, really wet and gloomy weather, spirits were high because so many children turned up to sing and were an absolute delight.

Pupils from Corngreaves, Temple Meadows and Timbertree primary schools led the community carol singing accompanied by the Salvation Army Band.

The Blackheath Ukulele Group Strummers added to the entertainment, but the rain meant there were fewer charity stalls and it was too wet for Santa’s sleigh and grotto.

Cllr Shackleton added: “We were like drowned rats, but Santa handed out sweets to the children and the shops entered into the spirit of it too, staying open late.”

It was the first time the High Street had been closed to traffic for the switch-on and Cllr Shackleton said it was hoped to build up the event next year as part of a bid to breathe new life into the town.

Old Hill’s Christmas lights will be switched on this Saturday (Dec 1) by para-cycling star Helen Scott, along with the town’s fundraising firefighter watch commander Rudy Parkes MBE and Jessica Gripton, at 5pm.

Holy Trinity Church fundraising committee member Liz Bowler said: “We have picked people this year who are inspiring in different ways.”

Visitors will be able to have their photographs taken with the trio and the Cradley Heath Salvation Army Band will lead the carol singing.

Entertainment will start at 3.30pm with funfair and donkey rides in the church grounds and children’s activities and craft stalls inside, along with mince pies and refreshments. Halesowen and Rowley Regis Rotarians will be joining the fun with their Santa sleigh.